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Editorial: New strike votes show the workplace fightback is gathering strength

MASSIVE votes for strike action at Heathrow airport came as railway workers shut down the network for a second day today.

British Airways’ attempt to maintain a 10 per cent pay cut — one it imposed alongside job cuts during the pandemic despite receiving public money to protect its workers — is a striking example of corporate determination to exploit the Covid crisis to drive pay down and increase profit margins.

Poverty pay rates and job insecurity were blights that cost lives when coronavirus struck: workers with no savings and inadequate sick pay were unable to take time off, helping spread the virus.

As ministers led the nation in rounds of Thursday evening claps for those whose labour keeps the country running, working-class people everywhere were encouraged to think that things might change when the lockdowns ceased. 

That promise has been cynically betrayed by ministers and big business who use every crisis to attack pay and conditions.

It’s been betrayed too by a Labour leader who was elected pledging that “the last shall be first” but has switched Gospel themes since, wanting workers to turn the other cheek when presented with below-inflation pay awards and devastating attacks on jobs.

Keir Starmer declines to support strike action and looks weaker than ever as MPs and even shadow cabinet members defy him to stand with workers fighting to save their livelihoods.

No doubt his lack of solidarity with rail workers will be shown to check-in staff organised in the Unite and GMB unions who have told BA where to go by voting by more than 90 per cent for strikes on turnouts above 80 per cent.

The same will go for CWU members if national strike ballots underway by telecoms workers at BT and posties at Royal Mail deliver similar messages.

Inflation is soaring, people are suffering and corporate fat cats are raking it in, posting record profits.

The Sunday Times Rich List describes the present as “a golden era for the super rich,” noting that the 250 richest people in Britain today own more than the 1,000 richest did just five years ago.

Since Starmer replaced Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader in 2020, the language of wealth redistribution has disappeared from our politics. The idea of a movement “for the many not the few” has been dismissed in favour of the old lie that we are all in it together.

Yet a couple of days of strike action have brought the reality of class struggle home to millions.

Murdoch’s rag The Sun screams about class war while Lord Rothermere’s Mail tries to shame Labour MPs attending picket lines. The Telegraph snarls that the Tories ought to have passed legislation banning strikes like this three years ago.

But RMT leader Mick Lynch’s calm explanation of the issues — combined with the unabashed message that workers in every other sector are facing the same problems and need to organise for pay rises too — has made him an overnight icon and encouraged a surge of interest in trade unions. The TUC reports that online searches for “join a union” are up 184 per cent in a week.

Following so soon after the successful mobilisation of tens of thousands of trade unionists for the We Deserve Better demonstration last weekend, the national rail strikes offer a message of hope to working-class people everywhere.

Together with the other waves of industrial action that are coming — unless bad bosses like those at BA, BT, Royal Mail and elsewhere take the hint and make proper pay offers — this must be used to recruit unorganised workers in every sector. The advantage of having a union that has your back has seldom been so obvious.

Winning on pay is the only way to protect households from the cost-of-living crisis — and doing so will strengthen the labour movement for years to come.
 

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